In my house, we've had some issues--well, a lot of issues--with negativity. My eldest son being one of the worst. If he missed a shot in basketball, his head would drop, his spirit follow, and his performance go downhill. If he missed a question on his test, he'd beat himself up about it. If he didn't win first place in the science fair, his project suddenly stunk. If he didn't win at a card game, he'd leave the table upset. I could go on and on, but you get the general idea.
After each one of these episodes my husband and I would pull him aside and have that talk. You know the one. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect and you can't expect to be perfect. Chin up. Be positive. Be positive. BE POSITIVE!!!!
Over and over we'd tell him these things until I finally came to the realization that it wasn't getting through, possibly because our son had no idea how to actually be positive. But how could I teach him how to apply that principle and become a more positive person? I was clueless.
So after much prayer and thought, I decided to start the "At Least" game, which goes like this: Every time something negative happens to a member of our family, someone starts by giving one or two "At Leasts." At least you didn't miss the basket altogether. At least you didn't break your arm. At least you didn't fall on your face. At least your shorts didn't fall down.
The first time I tried this, I was amazed at the results. My other kids soon joined in and it suddenly became a contest in who could give the funniest response. Before long, everyone was laughing. Now, it's one of our favorite games to play when something goes awry.
The other night, I was completely exhausted after one of "those days." I couldn't wait to get the kids in bed and relax. So I forced myself through the nightly routine. We read the bedtime stories, I listened to their sweet prayers, and I kissed and hugged them goodnight. Then I crawled into my own bed and breathed a sigh of relief that I'd made it through the day.
Suddenly, my oldest son had a coughing fit and proceeded to throw up all over the bathroom floor (we'd had spaghetti or dinner that night). I wanted to simultaneously cry and shout, "Why couldn't you have done that in the toilet? Why? That's where throw up belongs, not on the floor!" But I kept my mouth shut, forced the tears away, and started cleaning up.
"Sorry, Mom," my son said.
"It's okay, it wasn't your fault." But inside, I was still thinking how much I did not want to have to clean up throw up right then and how sick I was of that lousy cough that wouldn't go away and leave my son alone.
Then, out of the blue, he said, "At least I didn't do it on the carpet."
I suddenly felt put on the spot, and all I could think was, "I'm so not in the mood for this game right now." But I couldn't say that or it would've made me a complete hypocrite and ruined all the progress we'd made. So instead, I searched for a positive--any positive--and finally came up with, "At least you got some in the toilet."
"At least I'm not coughing anymore."
That one brought me to my senses. If my sweet son could find a positive about coughing to the point of throwing up, I could find one about having to clean it up.
Then tonight--that same, sweet, formerly negative son--jumped off the trampoline and managed to break his thumb. He was in tears when he came inside, worried about his swelling finger and what would happen if it really was broken--would he have to get pins put in it like I had to go through a few years back?
I could see the fear in his eyes, but didn't know what to tell him because I didn't know. So I filled a bag with ice and took him to the nearest urgent care. While in the waiting room, with his thumb still throbbing and worry etched across his brow, he said, "At least I have an excuse for bad handwriting now."
I laughed on the outside, but inside my heart filled with joy. I know from experience how hard it is to start the "At Least" game when you're the unlucky target of bad luck--I still haven't been able to do it. But there was my son, the one who used to drop his head and kick at the floor in frustration, finding the positive within the negative all on his own. I'd never been prouder or more convinced of the power of "At Least."